25 September 2008

Hacks for going to the shopping mall with preschoolers

I generally avoid the mall, but during the back-to-school shopping season I seem to find myself there at least once or twice. In fact, it's not a bad place to hang out when the kids are antsy and the weather's bad. Kristin offers some great tips for keeping everyone happy (and I like the way she thinks about "sharing" ice cream):

1. If your goal is to give the kids some exercise, be as inefficient as possible between stops. If two stores I need to see are right next to each other, I put a small loop in between to maximize foot time.

2. Picnic in the food court. Here in California, food courts frequently have an outdoor seating area, too. No one has ever asked us to stop eating our PBJs! Saves money and helps us avoid deep-fried or other unhealthy foods.

3. We may be healthy eaters in general, but my kids love ice cream. And, sometimes, it's just what mama needs. At the mall, I head to our favorite mix-in ice cream shop and ask for a small scoop with fresh bananas. Then, I make sure our children's portions are mostly banana. The extra benefit here is that mama gets more ice cream. (Oh, don't look at me that way.)

I'll add one more tip: scope out whether you local mall has a play area, or at least a Barnes and Noble with a train table. They get to have fun, and you get to sit down.

Related:
Head to mall and restaurant playspaces first thing in the morning
Never lose your car in store parking lots again

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One for the dads, when it's your turn to keep the kids busy: If they tell you "Can we go in this store? Mommy always let's us go in. We'll just look, you don't have to buy us anything" the little buggers ARE LYING TO YOU.


I love the mall play area in theory, but it's never big enough. If the weather is bad, then all the moms & kids are inside, and it's utter chaos. Plus, there are always - ALWAYS - a couple of 9 year olds bouncing around and trampling the smaller kids. Even when school is in session. I don't know where these kids come from, or why they even want to thrash around with a bunch of preschoolers. Wouldn't they rather hang out at the food court, or in a store, or go to a movie?

I guess because of the size of these play areas, I also find that my kid is more likely to get nailed by an aggressive kid his own age, too. Once, my son left with a bloody nose! We've never had that problem at the park...

I love the mall play area in theory, but it's never big enough. If the weather is bad, then all the moms & kids are inside, and it's utter chaos. Plus, there are always - ALWAYS - a couple of 9 year olds bouncing around and trampling the smaller kids. Even when school is in session. I don't know where these kids come from, or why they even want to thrash around with a bunch of preschoolers. Wouldn't they rather hang out at the food court, or in a store, or go to a movie?

I guess because of the size of these play areas, I also find that my kid is more likely to get nailed by an aggressive kid his own age, too. Once, my son left with a bloody nose! We've never had that problem at the park...

1. If you know there is a family bathroom or special kids bathroom, park near it so you visit it first thing and last thing. Really helps.

2. Many stores have balloons (to attract attention to a sale and such) and are willing to part with one for your toddler to enjoy.

3. Our little one loves music. Find a store that is playing some dance music and spend some time outside the store dancing. (or inside the store if you wish)

4. I noticed an electronics store with a sofa in front of a TV. There were a few kids already parked there. Not my cup of tea - but an optional "quite time" for some.

5. If your mall has it, rent the "fire truck" stroller. For $4 (what our mall charges) it is a special treat for our little one and he can "drive" it for hours without getting bored.

Other ways that we keep our kids (5 and almost 8) in line at the mall:
1. Count the number of stores, floor tiles, etc in between stops

2. Look at the signs for the letter A, then the letter B, etc.

3. Our mall has a pet store so many times that is a reward of sorts. At the end or near the end of our shopping we stop there and they can look at all the puppies and cats. Thankfully we have 2 dogs at home already otherwise we might come home with a few more!

I have a few suggestions as well...
1. When we are in a store with tons of breakable stuff, I make the kids put their hands on their heads...sure, they look like little hostages, but it works!
2. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE snakes, so one of my best bribes is that if they will be good, I will go into the petstore with them and look at a snake for 10 seconds. (It's all about creative bribery).

When we travel to see family (two full days by car) w/ our now 6 & 2 year olds, we stop at playgrounds in good weather, and malls in bad. A 45 minute stop w/ food court, hike from one end to the other, and possibly some time in a play area. I've got all the mall stops scoped out between Wichita, Kansas and Columbus, Ohio if anyone is interested. :)

We love the mall playcenter. We also get the firetruck stroller (although they are free at our mall). My son loves to ride in it, push it around etc .. he always sleeps well!

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